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To the clouds: a final post

John Constable: cloud study.

On June 12, 1824, John Constable sketched, in oils, squall clouds over Brighton beach. On June 13, 1871, Gerard Manley Hopkins saw a red rack of clouds floating away. On June 12, 1869, John Muir noted Cumuli rising to the eastward over the Merced River. “How well they harmonize with the upswelling rocks beneath them!”

The writer Annie Dillard locates something sacred in the human history of clouds, and it was with that in mind that I went back into the DTU archives to see what clouds I observed a year ago today.

As it turns out, far from contemplating clouds, on November 15, 2010 Anna and I were talking about food. Apple strudel, pumpkin pie, and while I’m on the topic let me say that caramelized butternut squash is now officially my new favorite snack.

As Anna mentioned in her post earlier today, after a little more than a year of tracking our emotional calendars, it’s time for this phase of the project to end. Anna, the more practical member of the team, wrote about ways DTU has changed her lifestyle. I have to confess that just this morning, after hearing predictions of heavy thunderstorms and flooding across Austin, I hopped on my bike and rode to campus – just like I would have last year. Lesson emphatically not learned.

Or maybe my morning bike ride perfectly reflects my DTU experience. It’s true that this project has documented the whole range of my emotional experience, from a wild post-book-writing trip to Ipswich to the anxious (and endless) anticipation of spring. But mostly, when I think about DTU, I am struck with a feeling of delight. I think about maple syrup-making and early crocuses, ridiculous chanukah songs and really, really good food.

As we come round to winter again, it seems like DTU has permanently embedded itself into my seasonal experience, giving emphasis to all its most delightful aspects. Now the arrival of hot summer weather will remind of the time that Anna and I gave up chocolate. Thanksgiving, on top of being about family and food, will be about Anna’s ridiculous proposal that we live-blog the whole thing. January snowstorms will come hand-in-hand with the requisite Dorchester.

It might not be as sacred as the contemplation of clouds. But when those clouds turn to rain, I’ll ditch my umbrella and take out my bike. As they say, it’s been a good ride.

Thanks for reading.

Weather: 63 degrees and lovely in Austin tonight.

Mood: 7 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Bittersweet.

A full year has come and gone since Hannah and I started Ditch the Umbrella. In that time we’ve reflected, mulled, and written about our emotional calendars, and, hopefully, gained a deeper understanding of what boosts our moods and where our emotional hotspots lurk. But now that we’ve completed a full seasonal cycle, we’ve completed our original mission, and so we will be concluding our little experiment. This will be my last blog post, and Hannah’s final reflection will be coming soon.

I, at least, have made changes to the way I live because of these little revelations: last winter, my worst season by far, I had such a bad case of cabin fever that I resorted to a frenetic and uncoordinated evening playing my roommate’s DDR (Dance Dance Revolution). This year, in an effort to prevent bad dancing, I’ve joined a gym so I can have an outlet for my energy when the days are short, the nights frigid, and the sidewalks nearly unwalkable.

The DDR incident, as I’ve come to think of it, taught me that I need to find ways to enjoy the winter sun, even if my face becomes an icicle. So this year, I plan on returning to cross country skiing, and may even try some winter hiking. (But only if I can start a snowball fight somewhere along the way.)

And I’ve started cooking, and cooking seasonally — enjoying fruits and vegetables when they’re naturally fresh (though I’ll still eat winter tomatoes, even if they’re nothing like the tomatoes Hannah rushed back to the States for) — and synching myself with the cycles of New England in that way.

But most importantly, I’m aware of my hotspots. Of the energy I feel in the fall that propels me to go-go-go, and to have an adventure. Of my weather obsession, which I no doubt inherited from the women in my family. Of my need to travel in the summer, or feel like I’m missing out on something. Of the amount of sleep I need to feel well rested and ready to go, especially when the hours of daylight are limited. Of the joy the holidays bring me with their carols, gingerbread, pine, and good cheer. Of the frustration I feel in the middle of winter, when I just can’t think about slipping on ice yet again. And of the things I can do to make the most of these experiences, and to revel in the joys each year brings.

Thanks for reading.

Late afternoon on the rails, Peru

Weather: Cloudy and unseasonably warm. Over 60 degrees in Cambridge.

Mood:

Anna: 6 out of 10. Energized, but slightly sad to be saying goodbye to DTU. A bit nostalgic.

Unlike Hannah, I’m not in grad school, and I’m no more busy than I usually am this time of year. But the past two months have flown by, and though I’ve been enjoying the experiences of the fall, I’ve been less focused on seasonal transitions, and more consumed by larger life changes.

Travel this summer took me to France, Switzerland, China, and India — and scooped me away from  New England for nearly the entire month of July. Adventures were followed by the utterly practical task of moving, almost as soon as I returned home.

I blinked, and summer was over.

But rather than turning to autumnal activities like pumpkin carving and cider drinking, I’ve been focusing on the very real task of painting my apartment, unpacking book boxes, figuring out what’s missing, and what no longer belongs. This is a routine I’ve played out many times now, but each time it becomes a little more complex.

In boarding school, I had less than a car-full of stuff. My Compaq computer was anything but compact, and took up the majority of space in my dad’s car. Furniture was provided by the school, so all I needed was clothing, linens, class supplies, an alarm clock, and a phone. My decorations were iconic French advertisements that I had purchased in Montmartre while feeling oh-so-sophisticated the summer before I first went to Exeter and a smattering of postcards I had collected over the years. Each year I had a new room, a new space to make my own.

College wasn’t much different, until my sophomore year when I decided to move into a “luxury” duplex (think big, boxy, and boring) 2 miles from campus. I painted my room, moved a bunch of furniture from home, and 10 months later, it was time to paint the walls back and move the furnishings out. My stuff sat in storage for the next few years as I lived in tiny collegetown apartments that didn’t leave much room for decoration and always came with a few dusty, scratched pieces of furniture. I would live in one place for 10 months, then another for 2 months, never setting down roots. Those posters from high school came with me wherever I went — whether it was for a year or a few months — and provided a sense of continuity, of familiarity.

By now I’ve lived in the city for almost 3 years, 2.5 of which were spent in my first apartment. Now that I have an apartment I adore, I want to live in a space that reflects who I am now, and not who I was — or wanted to be — when I was 14. And so I’ve started down that unfamiliar path of settling into a more permanent place, enjoying the surprises it often brings, and fondly remembering those other, earlier fall days when I was taking stock of new dorm rooms and unpacking my posters.

Weather:
A beautiful, sunny fall day at 63 degrees in Cambridge. Austin is a summery 84 degrees.

Mood:
Anna
: 7 out of 10. It’s Friday and I’m research history in a beautiful library.

Bikers in Austin. I am almost this cool.

You are not going to believe what is happening in Austin today. I am sitting in the library by the window, my hands wrapped around a warm cup of coffee, and I am watching the rain drops fall from the trees.

That’s right. It’s been raining for two days now and the world could not be a better place. Life in Austin is looking up.

It’s true that the rain was a bit inconvenient. For example: last night was national “look at the moon night” and when I dragged some new friends over to the lake, we discovered that for the first time in two months, it was cloudy. For the first time in two months, I should say, there was no moon.

And it’s true that I showed up to several important meetings with mud sprayed up my back and my clothes dripping wet, something that used to be standard fare but that hasn’t happened in a long time now. Today was the first opportunity in months for me to perform my “superwoman” transformation, from mud-splattered bicyclist to professional young adult.

(The texans, I should say, were impressed.)

But what the rain lacks in convenience it makes up for in general good will. Biking to campus yesterday, I started thinking that my soul responds to rain just the way a plant does. The grim is washed away, and I can stand up straight again.

I know you’ve been flooded for weeks in New England, and I know that excessive rain leads to mildew and disaffection. But after two months of sun, I’m embracing this chance to curl up in an armchair with a hot beverage and a good book.

Because by next week, it’s sure to be back in the 90s again.

Weather:
70 degrees and cloudy in Austin. 75 degrees and clear in Somerville.

Mood:
Hannah: 8 out of 10. If I wasn’t so overloaded with work I’d probably be jumping with joy.

*Photo credit to rkphoto.com

Fall in Harvard: Still the best time of year*

The fall equinox came and went last week and I, sweating in 100-degree Austin, passed it right by. Even after an entire year of thinking about seasonality, this September the change of seasons just wasn’t on my mind.

Where did the time go?

I know where my time went, actually. I lost it somewhere between Gogol, Dostoevsky, Emerson, and Rodó. Gradschool time is a weird kind of time, broken into fragments that have nothing to do with the ordinary 9-5. Class at 5:30pm? Meetings at 7:30am? Rock-climbing breaks in the middle of the day? But it’s also true that gradschool time blends together incomprehensibly. Did I just read for 5 hours straight? Is it true that I haven’t taken a break in three days? What happened to the weekend?

It’s a nice feature of gradschool, these long periods of free time in which to do what pleases you most.

This week, NPR is a featuring a new series about the history of time. The series’ premise: “The baseline crisis we must understand and confront is not one of economics, climate change, resource depletion or alternate-reality Republicans. Below them all is a crisis in time.”

The subject of our enslavement to the clock has come up several times on this blog: see for example A Time Without Time. I used the word enslavement: I obviously have concerns about timeliness. (Probably, if I’m being honest, because I’m always late.) It’s interesting to think about the fact that before the invention of clocks, most people knew it was midday, evening, dawn – and nothing more. What freedom they must have felt then!

No one in ancient Greece ever felt guilty for failing to write a blog post for two entire weeks, for example.

Still, the word “crisis” is a bit much. There was an article in the nytimes this week about Republicans and the apocalypse. Its greatest weakness was its emphasis on Republicans. Religious or not, we are all pretending to live in apocalyptic times, until time itself has become apocalyptic. It’s the other piece of the time crisis: the idea that time is running out.

Freedom from time, in my book, means the opportunity to read all night long. It also means the chance to live without fear of impending doom.

Still, I’m glad someone reminded me of the equinox.

Happy Fall! and for those who celebrate, Shanah Tovah.

Weather:
66 degrees in Somerville and 67 in Austin. (but there’s a high of 101 today).

Mood:
Hannah: 6 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Clearly I’m out of bed. But still sleepy.

Anna: 6 out of 10. Early morning-gym run feels good, but the stress of the day does not.

*Photo credit to Kohlin’s lovely flickr account, full of great photos of my (and anna’s!) home town.

Wildfires

wildfire smoke, early yesterday morning*

There was a haze of smoke over the city this morning as I rode north towards campus. It was late morning and at first I thought it was the kind of haze that comes from intense heat and humidity, but this is austin, it is dry as a bone.

Many of you have heard about the Bastrop Wildfires that have been burning outside of Austin the past few days. As of this morning, 34,000 acres have burned and 577 houses have been destroyed in Bastrop County alone. Because of the damage it’s incurring, this fire is drawing national coverage: but according to Texas Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples, “Damage to this community is reflective of all Texas.  This is the worst burn season ever.”

Information about the fires is spreading slowly across the city. I heard about it early, from people who know people who lost their homes last week. (You can keep track of the fires reliably here.) Then I started getting e-mails from my friends back and east, and I realized the fire was going to be something big. One gentleman in my yoga class said it was a sign of global warming; others implied it might be intended for Rick Perry. Two weeks into my class on the apocalypse, I’m tempted to see signs of impending doom in the slew of natural disasters that have hit us this summer.

The truth, of course, is much smaller and closer to home. For those of us in Texas, the news is full of information about how to get involved, and it was inspiring this morning to see people on the street collecting money for the relief effort. And for everyone else – political and religious views aside, now might be as good a time as any to pray for rain.

Weather:
In texas we’re having a cold snap at 93 degrees. In Somerville, it’s 60.

Mood:
Hannah: 6 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale.

*photocredit to the wildfire blog wildfiretoday.com, which also shows an extraordinary map of the fires. But this photo they pulled from youtube.

Back to the Future

“Hot out today,” the woman at the bus stop said. It was 5 pm. It was 101 degrees. I nodded.

“Hard to believe it’s September,” she said.

That broke my heart a little bit. Because September is my favorite month, and the precursor to my favorite season. September is when the first apples start to ripen on the trees. It’s when the nights turn a little bit crisp and there’s the scent of fall in the air. In September all your notebooks are new, all your pencils are sharp, and your homework is always in on time.

For the last four years, I missed the feeling that you get on the first day of school: the sense that something new and possibly extraordinary is about to begin. As a “young professional” I found it almost impossible to adjust my mental schedule to a lifestyle that disregarded the academic calendar. I thought that once I was back in school, that sense of disorientation would disappear.

I was wrong. As it turns out, going from a 9-5 lifestyle to a 24/7 one isn’t such an easy thing to do. I seem to have picked up some habits in the past four years that I’m not ready to abandon.  Although technically I may be “back” in school, this doesn’t feel like going back at all. It’s not just about my schedule: my relationships with my peers, the pedagogy of my professors, even my homework is different than it’s ever been before. Whatever I’m doing here, it’s something entirely new.

New things in September – that, at least, is a familiar feeling. But at 100 degrees fahrenheit, I don’t think I’ll be getting apples this fall.

Back to the Future. Obviously.*

Weather:
A pleasant 98 degrees at sunset in Austin; 64 degrees and cloudy in cambridge.

Mood:
Hannah: 7 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Feeling pretty peaceful now that it’s cooled down a bit.

*I think the post title works with the content. Or maybe I just really wanted a picture of a flying car.

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